Aisha, a witty and strangely charming 25-year-old from Banki, a town bordering Cameroon, recalled how members of Boko Haram came to her town in 2012 and began preaching their rigid brand of Salafi jihadism. The insurgents then turned to some of the women, asked what they ate, and when they replied, “just rice,” offered them a tantalizing deal. “They would give us a regular allowance of 5,000 naira and better food if we married them,” said Aisha who was so intrigued by the prospect that she asked her then-husband for a divorce, which he granted. The sum of money, most likely doled out monthly, is an incredible sum given 80 percent of rural Nigerians live on less than 400 naira a day. Aisha explained matter-of-factly, “I was tired of my husband and I wanted a rich man…of course I knew there are many rich men in Boko Haram.”
Despite its reputation for gross human rights abuses, particularly against women and girls, it appears that Boko Haram’s stature among the women it courted for marriage is less sullied. Of the seven women I spoke to in a special camp in Maiduguri, which held roughly two dozen militant wives who were “rescued” by the Nigerian military during raids of Boko Haram camps, most claimed that they had willingly married members of Boko Haram. Under the founder, Mohammed Yusuf, and the current leader Abubaker Shekau, who took over after Yusuf’s extrajudicial murder in 2009 by Nigerian security forces, the sect has been involved in the organization of marriages between members. Part of this process involves aqidah, or “creed,” a process of preaching and conversion within Islam that Boko Haram has adopted to recruit members—including a number of women.
After Aisha left her husband, she joined Boko Haram as a “single woman,” and stayed in a guesthouse with other women like her where she was well treated and fed. “Men would come to me one by one and explain why I should marry them,” said Aisha.